The Words of the Selig Family
Washington, DC, USA -- The Office of Peace and Security Affairs of UPF International in Washington DC conducted a roundtable discussion on Egypt, with the theme "Between the Army and the Muslim Brotherhood: Whither Egypt?" on July 25th at The Washington Times.
Egypt seems poised for a protracted contest for power between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, headed by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and the newly-elected president Mohamed Morsi and his supporters centered in the Islamist-oriented Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi's accession to the presidency follows the military's dissolution in June of Egypt's elected parliament – where the Brotherhood also had secured a dominant position. Meanwhile, drafting of a new constitution is dogged by disputes over the role of the military and the status of Sharia as a source of Egypt's legal code, to be followed by a referendum to approve it – a process that could take months. The results of this contest, and the contest itself, could have profound consequences for Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country and a linchpin for peace in the Middle East.
1. Dr. Antonio Betancourt (host) – Director, Office of Peace and Security Affairs, Washington, DC Office, UPF
2. James G. Jatras (moderator) – Former senior policy adviser to US Senate Republican leadership
3. His Excellency Al Maamoun Keita – Ambassador, Embassy of Mali to the US
4. Mr. Amgad A. Rezk – Third Secretary, Political Section, Embassy of Egypt
5. Dana Zureikat Daoud – Director, Jordan Information Bureau, Embassy of Jordan
6. Mohamed Elmenshawy – Director, Languages and Regional Studies, Middle East Institute
7. John T. Pinna -- Director, Office of Government and International Relations, American Islamic Congress
8. Aimée Chiu – Director of Media, Communications and Public Relations, American Islamic Congress
9. Ralph E. Winnie – Director, Global Business Development and the Eurasian Business Coalition's China Program, Eurasia Center
10. Katie Kiraly -- Research Assistant, Program on Arab Politics, Washington Institute for Near East Policy (representing Dr. David Schenker, Director of the Program on Arab Politics).
11. Juliette Schmidt -- Director, Partners in Humanity for Muslim-Western Understanding, Search for Common Ground
12. Nabil Makar – Egyptian artist and instructor, Letcher Art School
13. Vicki Phelps -- former Current Issues Associate Editor, The World and I
14. Dr. Mark P. Barry -- Advisor to UPF's Office of Peace and Security (via Skype)
15. Dr. William Selig -- Deputy Director, Office of Peace and Security Affairs, UPF
Dr. Betancourt opened the roundtable with an explanation about the UPF Office of Peace and Security Affairs. The office conducts monthly roundtables on hotspots of the world where there is a possibility of instability and challenges to the international democratic system. People representing all sides, including traditional left and right, are invited to engage in the discussions. We produce a report that is sent to our contacts around the world and is available on-line to the global membership and contacts of UPF International.
UPF is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the UN's Economic and Social Council and has chapters in more than 130 countries around the world. The purpose of the organization is to build a culture of peace. We see a clear role for all religions and a renewed institution of the family involved in the creation of the new peaceful civilization of the 21st century.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with newly-elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Clinton expressed support for Egypt's democratic transition and stressed protecting the rights of religious minorities and women.
Our moderator, James G. Jatras, former senior policy adviser to the US Senate Republican leadership, opened the discussion by asking, "Will the Generals and the Muslim Brotherhood be able to manage their current "cohabitation" peacefully and reach a stable consensus on Egypt's future, or is a clash inevitable as part of a new round of revolutionary unrest?"
John Pinna of the American Islamic Congress sees the events in Egypt as a "healthy transition" by the people who had demanded a change. It will now be up to the Muslim Brotherhood to deliver on all the promises. There will be "growing pains, but that's how democracy works."
Addressing the concerns of an overbearing military, Dr. Betancourt shared his personal experiences from the example of Latin America and also from Asia. The reason that people turned to the military was because it was the only force with the organization and discipline to create order. The US did not promote democracy in those countries because it was more comfortable dealing with the military dictators. In Egypt, the military is a very well-organized force, but so is the Muslim Brotherhood. There are dozens of examples of governments in Latin America and Asia that changed from a military to a democratic society. "We can only hope that the process for change in Egypt will follow the many models in Latin America and other parts of the world whose transitions and transformations were done peacefully."
The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, preaches Islamic Sharia law. Although banned for many years, ironically it was during Hosni Mubarak's presidency that an "olive branch" was offered to the group. In the 2000 parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood won 17 parliamentary seats. In 2005, it won 88 seats to form the largest opposition bloc. In 2011, the Brotherhood launched a new party called the Freedom and Justice Party. Mohamed Morsi, the party's candidate, won the presidency with 52% of the vote, defeating Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister.
Mr. Jatras, our moderator, described the struggle for power between Morsi and the Supreme Council as a zero sum game. Morsi is gradually consolidating his power and position. There is debate whether his call to reinstate the parliament that the military had dissolved is an attempt to seize control of the state or a legitimate move to restore the president's capacities.
Mr. Pinna said the military is going to be a key player during the transition period. Democracy is still an unknown process in Egyptian civil society. It will have to be nurtured and given time to develop. The protestors don't understand the mechanics of democracy and lack the tools to properly represent the people. The environment is not conducive for the operation of NGOs, which could actually provide support.
Mali Ambassador Keita described the changes in Egypt as evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It offers an opportunity for the Coptic Christians and educated classes to play determining roles in the rebuilding of a democratic nation for the first time in its 7,000-year history. The ambassador also questioned if Egypt, under Mubarak, was an authoritarian military regime or a dictatorship?
Amgad Rezk, Third Secretary of the Embassy of Egypt, described as peaceful the process of transferring from a military to a democratic form of government. President Morsi won with about 52% of the vote. "I was really surprised that both sides accepted the final results."
Mohamed Elmenshawy of the Middle East Institute said Egypt was not a military regime. It operated under the watchful eye of the Supreme Council and within the constitution. He emphasized two key questions: the role of religion and whether the military will take over.
Ralph Winnie of the Eurasian Center cited the example of South Africa. It was through the efforts of Frederik de Klerk, who called for the principle of one person, one vote, that the nation made its historic transformation. The military remained loyal to the government and the result was the end to apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994.
Mr. Winnie said that in addition to the military, the financial institutions also gave their support for change in South Africa. "In order for the country [Egypt] to move forward, both sides -- the Muslim Brotherhood and the military -- will have to cooperate."
Dr. William Selig, Deputy Director, Peace and Security Affairs, UPF International pointed out that the Egyptian people and President Morsi are facing multiple challenges both domestically and on the regional and even global levels to bring stability into the new democracy in the country. "What the international community has to remember is that democracy did not arrive in today's democratic societies overnight; it was a long and arduous process with a high cost in human lives and resources. Egypt and the Arab world need time to adjust and restructure their societies at their own pace and according to the individual conditions of the country."
Aimée Chiu of the American Islamic Congress said, "it will require economic intervention to bring Egypt up to speed." Strict economic rules have restricted the activities of NGOs in the country. The young generation is in love with their new freedoms in the post-election period, but now, according to her, is the time to bring all the small splinter groups together and identify their points in common. Financial support must come from somewhere to provide training in business operations.
Mr. Winnie agreed that the US and other allies should promote the Egyptian NGOs because these groups have experience in transferring technical expertise. President Obama recently announced that the US will cancel Egypt's estimated $1 billion debt.
Egyptian Secretary Rezk applauded Secretary of State Clinton's recent visit and is hopeful that an economic aid package, which would include commercial and investment-related incentives, will be forthcoming.
Mr. Jatras questioned Morsi's motivation in wanting to restore ties with Iran to create a strategic "balance" in the region. Ties were severed more than 30 years ago. "This is very worrisome to the US and the Western powers that want to isolate Iran, particularly over its nuclear program."
One of the participants asked about Sharia and its possible effect on international investments. Amb. Keita pointed out there are 57 Muslim-majority nations where Sharia has been implemented to some degree, including Mali, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, and the US trades with all of them.
Mr. Jatras questioned how Sharia will be practiced in Egypt, particularly because in the perception of the West, it is negative, backward and brutal.
Dr. Betancourt commented on the importance of social and economic involvement. Recalling his own experiences in Colombia, he noted that radical groups were able to successfully recruit young people because of limited opportunities offered by society. "In a closed economy, desperate people make desperate choices." He hopes that the new government will place importance on providing education and jobs for the young.
Vicki Phelps, former Current Issues Associate Editor of the World and I, brought up the issue of religious freedom in Egypt and persecution of Copts, the Egyptian Christians. She wondered, if the new government follows a strict form of Sharia, how would other faiths be treated?
Members of the U.S. Congress have expressed concern about "human trafficking" of Coptic women and girls who are victims of abductions, forced conversion to Islam, sexual exploitation and forced marriage to Muslim men.
Egyptian Secretary Rezk described the Muslim Brotherhood as "a pragmatic organization" that is "concerned about the core issue of personal freedom."
Katie Kiraly of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy expressed concerns about President Morsi's independence from the Sharia board, which includes policy-making members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Mr. Jatras raised the critical issue of Israel. Egypt has been the linchpin of U.S. policy in the Middle East since 1979, when it became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Recently Egypt eased travel restrictions for Palestinians in Gaza.
Dr. Betancourt said much will depend on the outcome of the U.S. elections. President Obama and Governor Romney have different visions about Israel. "As much as the American public is watching the elections, so is the Brotherhood."
Mr. Winnie said, "For a long time Israel was the only democracy in the area, but guess what -- now we have a fledgling democracy in Egypt."
Mr. Jatras said people are puzzled that America abandoned Mubarak in favor of an unknown commodity in hopes that the military would be a "more reliable custodian and supporter of American interests." If the only prerequisite to gaining American support is democratic elections, then "why didn't we support Fidel Castro in Cuba and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua? It seems like we run the same risk of supporting the Brotherhood that is supposedly the will of the people, yet not necessarily in the best interests of the United States."
Dana Z. Daoud, Director of Jordan Information Bureau, Embassy of Jordan said the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan plays an important role in the country. They are involved in discussions about changes to the Kingdom's election laws. Despite opposing many of the king's policies, the Brotherhood has remained largely loyal to King Abdullah's dynasty, which claims ancestry to Islam's Prophet Muhammad. "I predict the relationship between the military and the government will move forward smoothly."
John Pinna sees "tremendous opportunity for democracy-building in the country and the region. It's important that we dialogue and find ways to build an agenda that will satisfy our interests."
Mohamed Elmenshawy of the Middle East Institute believes Egypt will respect all its international treaties, but at the same time, there are many unknowns and much uncertainty that will take time to work out.
Juliette Schmidt, Director, Partners in Humanity, Search for Common Ground, emphasized the role media will play. "The media plays a huge role. The people are looking for information." Communication and transparency will facilitate consensus among the factions.
Katie Kiraly of the Washington Institute said the key indicator that the new Egyptian government is going in the right direction will be how it deals with women's rights and gender equality in social, political, and civic circles. Whether the Brotherhood gives rights to women will judge whether Egypt is going in the right direction. She noted there has been a huge upsurge in sexual harassment of women.
"UPF International," said Dr. Selig, "acknowledges the need for political, military, and civil power in the democratization process, but we also emphasize the role of religious and spiritual leaders. Our hope is that after this historic democratic election, Muslims and Christians can find ways to work together for the purpose of the whole nation and region."
Despite some cautious observations, Dr. Betancourt ended the roundtable on an optimistic note. Life involves a series of changes and they seem to be happening faster than ever before. He gave the example of Korea and the situation of women. Prior to the Korean War, just 60 years ago, a woman entering the household of her husband would be relegated to a life of servitude, but today, women are accepted as the equals of men in all areas of society.
Mr. Jatras closed the meeting. "The situation in Egypt is complicated, but the pro-democratic voices have spoken. It will be important to watch the situation very closely."